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TV History: I Love Lucy

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2017. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

Lucy is “Off to Florida” and Redefining Gender Roles

by Martha Murphy

The 1950’s began the rise of the situational comedy on television. Situational comedies presented a clear beginning, middle, and happy ending all in under thirty minutes. Many recent situation comedies, like Seinfeld, The Office, and How I Met Your Mother, still follow this format. After World War II, many women were assuming long-established household roles once again, and Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy were no exception. Lucy answered to Ricky, and he brought in the household income. However, in this clip of Lucy changing a tire on her way to Florida, she is able to reveal her true self. Lucille Ball’s performance in “Off to Florida” is empowering to women in the 1950’s because her assertiveness and tactfulness in changing a tire redefined her character’s gender role.
The I Love Lucy episode “Off to Florida” first aired on CBS on November 12th, 1956. The most popular prime-time shows of the late 1950s and early 1960s were westerns. In these particular shows, women had to stay home and “take care of the youngins’, bake cornbread, and darn the cowboy’s smelly socks” (Douglas 43). These shows praised male adventurism and made female submission commonplace. Susan Douglas even makes a point to mention that because her mother worked, she sometimes perceived her mother as not as good as stay-at-home moms. However, the history of American television was changing, and I Love Lucy played a part in this change. The show had a continued theme of the “battle between the sexes”. Lucy and Ethel continued to place men and women on an equal playing field (Chang 16). Even though Lucy and Ethel were not so graceful in changing the tire, they were not afraid to get their hands dirty. This clip showed audiences that American television in the 1950s did not need to feature the perfect housewife at all times.
“Off to Florida” is a much loved episode by fans, and this clip was important for empowering women in an era where they were seen mainly as wives and primary care-givers. Although subtle and indirect, Lucy and Ethel changing a tire by themselves helped reverse gender norms. Women did not need a man by their side at all times, and they did not need to feel guilty about working. They were much more than just someone’s wife. They could drive down to Florida on their own and even change a tire without male assistance.
The female audience in the 1950’s needed a “Rosie the Riveter” of their time, and they found one in Lucy. In this scene, Lucy partially turns into the real-life perfectionist, Lucille Ball. Ethel screams out, “I don’t know how to change a tire!”, to which Lucy replies, “I do, I watched Ricky and Fred on our trip to California”. Lucille Ball for that matter, would not dare stay in her socially defined gender roles. Susan Douglas even states that Lucille Ball was “physically mutinous, brilliantly using [her] face and body in slapstick enactments of the battle of the sexes” (50). Lucy is very assertive and quick to correct Ethel’s questioning and gives direction like a seasoned leader. This clip even passes the Bechdel Test because Ethel and Lucy talk on screen about something other than a man.
This clip illustrates the changing times of television in the 1950s. It foreshadows the evolving gender roles of men and women in future decades. In following decades, more women return to work in increasing numbers. They will always be seen as loving mothers, and the negative stigma of working mothers associated with poor mothering abilities started to recede. Lucy isn’t afraid to take charge, yell at Ethel, and change a tire like her husband would. She even imitates Ricky losing his temper in Spanish, hoping to simultaneously acquire his tire-changing abilities. Lucy is resourceful, knowing the appropriate steps and identifying a jack, and can give directions under the most confusing of circumstances. It is important to note that both women are still wearing dresses, since they did not have to “change themselves” in order to take charge. Their leadership ability was with them all along. This clip and episode reminded women of the 1950s that they should not feel guilty of being ambitious, and they did not have to give in to established cultural norms. This clip from “Off to Florida” was a not-so-subtle tip on the scale for female empowerment.

Works Cited
Chang, Lily. "I Love Lucy: Why America Loved Her and What She Meant to Us." I Love Lucy: Why America Loved Her and What She Meant to Us. The Beat Begins: America In the 1950s, 1998. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. .
Douglas, Susan. “Mama Said.” Where the Girls Are. Times Books. 1995. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

"Off to Florida," I Love Lucy

This is a clip from the I Love Lucy episode entitled "Off to Florida," which first aired on CBS on November 12, 1956.

from I Love Lucy (1956)
Creator: CBS, Director: James V. Kern, Writers: Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll, Jr., Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf
Distributor: Hulu
Posted by Christine Becker